| ||School Integration and School Choice |
National Center on School Choice Podcast - March 30, 2007
Claire Smrekar , Research Investigator, Vanderbilt University
Research conducted by Vanderbilt’s National Center on School Choice Director Mark Berends, and Choice Center Investigators Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring, was part of an amicus brief filed recently in one of the most significant school integration cases since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. For only the fifth time in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, social science research was included in attorney arguments submitted for the Court hearing that was held in December. The case involves choice plans that use students’ race to help determine student assignments in Louisville, KY and Seattle, Washington.
Mark Berends’ research was cited in the brief submitted on behalf of the school districts involved in each case -- to explain how changes in families and schools are related to trends in the black-white test score gap. This research revealed significant improvements in black students’ socioeconomic conditions and proxies for schooling opportunities, both of which were associated with a narrowing of the gap. However, the increase in the resegregation of schools corresponded with an increase in the black-white test score over a twenty year period.
Smrekar and Goldring – both Vanderbilt University professors – examined the social and political context of magnet schools in earlier research conducted in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Nashville. This research, which was funded by The Spencer Foundation, used both survey and case study methodologies. Smrekar and Goldring explored the experiences and opportunities of students and their families who attend these public schools of choice, with specific focus upon the context of decision-making for parents in urban systems of school choice; the nature and quality of family-school interactions in magnet and non-magnet schools; and the conditions that influence issues of equity and access for students in urban school choice arrangements. The research provides evidence of the benefits gained for children educated in racially integrated school settings, and was cited in the brief submitted on behalf of the school districts involved in each case.
Both the Louisville and Seattle school districts use race as a tiebreaker in final student assignment decisions. In Louisville, for example, the district follows a “managed choice” plan that aims at maintaining African American student enrollment at between 15 and 50 percent in any district school. Nine “back-to-basics” magnet schools in the district use race as a factor in student admissions. The districts have argued that race is considered to diversify schools and to reduce segregation that may result from residential or neighborhood-based student assignment plans. Neither school district is under court order to racially balance their schools; both operate these plans voluntarily. The plaintiffs in each case – a parent group in Seattle and a parent of a student in Louisville – argue that school assignment in traditional public and magnet schools should be race-blind.
In earlier appeals in each case – the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Louisville case and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Seattle case – judges upheld the use of race in the districts’ student assignment and managed choice plans, noting that each policy was “narrowly tailored” to achieve racial diversity and did not violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A decision in the two cases – Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District – is expected in early June, 2007.